Melbourne’s worst CBD design crimesMelbourne is a diverse city with striking architecture and beautiful public spaces.

Melbourne’s worst CBD design crimes

Melbourne is a gloriously diverse city with striking architecture and beautiful public spaces. However, as with any city, sometimes buildings and spaces are built which pay lip service to the experience of the people who will be required to live with them.

These design crimes often come about through short-sighted cost-cutting, prioritising private interest over the public good, or a failure in those commissioning building work to see the bigger picture.

Here are some examples.

Crime scene: Southern Cross Station bus depot

Southern Cross Station bus depot. Photo: Supplied Southern Cross Station bus depot. Photo: Supplied

The most underwhelming arrival experience Melbourne offers is to tourists arriving via Skybus and other bus services. Unlike the soaring architecture offered to train travellers at Southern Cross Station, the bus depot just metres away is everything one might imagine a concrete jungle to be.

Within the utilitarian dark basement aesthetic, every surface – except the ticket box – is grey and hard. Every effort has been taken to disorient the bewildered traveller by removing any connection to the outside world.

Here, under the cheapest of industrial lighting, it feels as though it is perpetually night-time. The depot is an exercise in providing the bare minimum building with virtually zero architectural design. The result is an anonymous, underwhelming and disorientating entry for thousands of visitors to our city.

Crime scene: Ground-level car parks

There is no reason that Melbourne car parks should occupy precious street frontage. Photo: SuppliedPhoto: Supplied

There are many things to love about wandering the streets of Melbourne. Car parks are not one of them.

While they are, for now at least, a necessary evil, there is no reason that they should occupy precious street frontage. By providing blank walls, vents or open voids to the street, it prevents the on-street activity provided by shops and cafes from occurring. Examples of this within the CBD are fortunately limited, however, within the inner suburbs there are far too many examples to be found.

Another design crime particular to CBD car parking are the multistoreys that require excessive vehicle crossovers. Car parks that allow three or more lanes of vehicles to enter or exit to the street at any one time are prime examples. As well as killing off street activity, they make the pedestrian experience unpleasant, and in some places dangerous, particularly for those with restricted mobility.

Crime scene: Princes Bridge pavement

Princes Bridge pavement. Photo: Supplied Princes Bridge pavement. Photo: Supplied

One of the premier Melbourne experiences is meandering across the Yarra River towards our arts precinct on St Kilda Road. Yet despite the amazing heritage qualities and the beautiful views of Melbourne from this historic bridge, we are yet to extend our famous bluestone pavement across this bridge.

Instead of capitalising upon a great success, we fall back upon an uneven and cracking bitumen, the cheapest material possible. Some spaces are too important for cost to supplant quality, and the Princes Bridge is a prime example.

Crime scene: Buildings that give nothing back

Uninspiring. Photo: Supplied Uninspiring. Photo: Supplied

At first this design crime may seem abstract and hard to define. Yet when we look at buildings that use a generic curtain wall of glass in lieu of a considered design, it is clearly obvious when a developer has cut corners on design.

Looking back across the rail lines from Docklands stadium, we can see a perfect example of all take and no give. Here, the expansive retail outlet turns its back on Docklands in a most uninspiring and ugly fashion. Bare precast concrete spans uninterrupted for what must be hundreds of metres.

No windows, no articulation, not even a coat of paint is offered to those looking back at the building from Docklands or the passing trains.

Standing proudly in front of this crime scene is an example of what should have happened. Designed by esteemed architect McBride Charles Ryan, the Yardmasters Building provides a jewel of delight in a robust industrial setting.

While still using cost-effective precast concrete, the building has been given a considered geometric pattern which gives back a positive quality to the surrounding environment.

The Yardmasters Building. Photo: SuppliedJewel of delight: The Yardmasters Building. Photo: Supplied

These two buildings are a parable of what design brings to our city. What separates an oppressive concrete jungle from an uplifting and vibrant urban environment is the prevalence of quality architecture and urban design.

Michael Smith is a director of architectural practice at Atelier Red+Black. He also writes the blog The Red+Black Architect.

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